Sen. Tammy Duckworth received smiles and warm congrats as she made her way into the Senate chamber with her 10-day-old baby Maile last week. Rare changes to Senate rules opened the opportunity for senators to bring babies to the floor for votes. Considering rules require you must vote in person, this makes total sense, and the rule was passed by unanimous vote.
It’s time for more workplaces to embrace policies that support early motherhood working experiences. It’s empowering to women and contributes to decreasing the wage gap for a variety of reasons.
Since Duckworth is the first sitting senator to give birth while in office, it didn’t seem this rule was necessary to address before — but the change should be seen as a positive move for all. Women make up a small percentage of the Senate, but maybe we could up our numbers with some slight changes.
As a society, we should empower and encourage more women, including moms of young children, to follow that path toward political leadership (and otherwise) if they desire it. By allowing working moms the ability to mother on the job, especially in those first precious months, we are showing the next generation that they needn’t put their careers on hold if they don’t want to.
Many women want to leave the workforce when they have kids, but a good portion of them don’t. These days, flexible work schedules, innovative solutions for maternity leave, and teleworking make it easier than ever for professional women to balance babies and career — but there is perhaps more to be done.
A recent study indicates that women who have their first baby between 25 and 35 encounter a far wider gender pay gap than those who have babies before or after that 10-year span. This is generally before they establish a career and after they are already established, rather than in the middle of climbing the ladder. These are the years most likely to advance to higher levels of salary but part-time work or taking time off means women often miss that opportunity.
Taking time off or trading higher salaries for other benefits like part-time work and flex time is a personal choice (and a fantastic option!) but it would be beneficial to allow more mothering-on-the-job options as well. While some would counter we need more comprehensive maternity leave policies that offer full-time paid benefits for extended time periods, the reality is for many small businesses that is simply not an affordable option. And for women like Duckworth, who presumably want to continue doing the important work of voting, it’s not feasible or likely something they want to give up.
As the mom of two young children, I can attest to how distressing it is to leave your babies for extended periods of time in someone else’s care. Additionally, a large portion of newborns rely on their mothers’ bodies for food — something that is hard to provide when separated. Breast pumps are a wonderful tool, but no Mom likes pumping in a closet and screaming at someone not to open the door.
Babies need their moms, that’s a scientific fact. Psychoanalyst, researcher and author of the recent book, “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters,” Erica Komisar writes: “When a mother or other primary caregiver is not present enough, a child experiences higher levels of stress. Research shows that when mothers and babies are separated, they both produce more cortisol, a stress hormone. The unrelieved production of cortisol may cause a baby or toddler to become anxious and fearful, even when there’s no reason to be afraid.”
Times are changing and women are master multi-taskers. I’m writing this op-ed with a baby on my lap — and I did this interview while she was in my arms as well. There have been multiple pieces written by those who purport motherhood has made them better at their jobs.
While there were a few naysayers speaking out against the Senate rule changes, the majority of feedback was positive and that’s a good thing. Children and family are essential cornerstones of a healthy society, and cultivating important bonding with their parents while also creating upward career mobility can only be a win for women across the country.